LOUGHTON: Pupils walk out of lessons in protest against Big Brother cameras

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Davenant Foundation School in Loughton Davenant Foundation School in Loughton

PUPILS walked out of classrooms in protest against Big Brother-styled CCTV cameras recording their lessons.

They were so angry with the installation of the equipment at Davenant Foundation School in Chester Road, Loughton, they refused to return until they received assurances it had been turned off.

It meant they missed three weeks of studies and led to the drafting of a petition signed by about 150 of their peers.

And when they did return to the classroom they all wore masks to continue their protest.

The school, an accredited teacher training centre, said the equipment has been installed in two classrooms to capture footage showing examples of best practice in the profession, and would not be used without pupils' knowledge.

The issue has now been reported to UK privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (IOC), which is due to clarify the guidelines by the end of the month.

A father, whose son took part in the walk-out, said the school was wrong not to consult parents about the use of technology which "threatened our children's civil liberties".

He said: "There is a sphere-like camera at the front and two more cameras at the back. My son said he found it quite intimidating."

The school, a mixed comprehensive which takes pupils from across Essex and east London, has previously drawn criticism from parents for introducing a finger-scan recognition scheme in its canteen to allow pupils to buy lunch.

But headteacher Chris Seward says the new technology would only serve to drive up standards at the school, which is consistently one of the best performers in the county.

He said: "There was a small group of sixth-form students who protested because they felt these cameras would be used to film all their lessons. I also had some written representations from parents and I addressed their concerns in our newsletter. They took it all very seriously and I respect that.

"But once we spoke to them to explain the cameras would be used for a specific purpose they returned to class. Now we are waiting for the Information Commissioner to approve the guidelines and protocols before we can start using the cameras."

Epping Forest MP Eleanor Laing, who has written to the school on behalf of concerned parents, and is due to meet the Information Commissioner to discuss the case, said: "We need to find out if the pupils are happy to be filmed but there are two valid sides to this argument, and I am trying to get to the bottom of it.”

Comments (13)

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12:56pm Tue 19 May 09

user_999 says...

I would like to point out, as a student from Davenant Foundation School, that this story it not only old news, but has also been completely blown out of proportion. By 'pupils' the writer means no more than 5 and the mask wearing is news to me. The parent who is complaining about the cameras is the same parent (note the singular) who complained about the finger-printing system, which has greatly improved our lunch payment system. The school has now (probably 2 months ago) established the reasoning behind the cameras and no one has complained since. The story is just a means of trying to bring down a school which has a fantastic reputation in the area.
I would like to point out, as a student from Davenant Foundation School, that this story it not only old news, but has also been completely blown out of proportion. By 'pupils' the writer means no more than 5 and the mask wearing is news to me. The parent who is complaining about the cameras is the same parent (note the singular) who complained about the finger-printing system, which has greatly improved our lunch payment system. The school has now (probably 2 months ago) established the reasoning behind the cameras and no one has complained since. The story is just a means of trying to bring down a school which has a fantastic reputation in the area. user_999

11:36pm Tue 19 May 09

420 says...

As a pupil involved in the walkout I would like to voice the reality. The initial walkout consisted of all but one member of the class, after which approximately half returned because they felt they couldn't miss the lessons. The rest of us, concerned for our education collected work for the period of our protest and worked through private study. The response and explanation received from Mr. Seward was weak to say the least, effectively dodging the key issues and leaving great doubt over the school's reason for implementing the cameras on the basis of presumed consent. Our first full return to the classroom consisted of many class members wearing scarves across their faces, with one pupil choosing a V for Vendetta mask and another a set of false glasses and fake moustache. Distrust from pupils has continued as some of the equipment was found on, though not recording, in the classroom. Ultimately we as a group question the way the school introduced these cameras without consultation of pupils and parents, without laying out the guidelines for their use, without acknowledging the legal issues surrounding their use, and their validity as a resource - as if students are more likely to behave naturally under the watchful eyes of four black-domed cameras and a microphone sensitive enough to pick up anything said in the room, than if a teacher sat at the back of the room to watch the lesson. On this basis we not only oppose their impact on the civil liberties of the students, but also the expense that might could have been far better applied to other areas in the school.
As a pupil involved in the walkout I would like to voice the reality. The initial walkout consisted of all but one member of the class, after which approximately half returned because they felt they couldn't miss the lessons. The rest of us, concerned for our education collected work for the period of our protest and worked through private study. The response and explanation received from Mr. Seward was weak to say the least, effectively dodging the key issues and leaving great doubt over the school's reason for implementing the cameras on the basis of presumed consent. Our first full return to the classroom consisted of many class members wearing scarves across their faces, with one pupil choosing a V for Vendetta mask and another a set of false glasses and fake moustache. Distrust from pupils has continued as some of the equipment was found on, though not recording, in the classroom. Ultimately we as a group question the way the school introduced these cameras without consultation of pupils and parents, without laying out the guidelines for their use, without acknowledging the legal issues surrounding their use, and their validity as a resource - as if students are more likely to behave naturally under the watchful eyes of four black-domed cameras and a microphone sensitive enough to pick up anything said in the room, than if a teacher sat at the back of the room to watch the lesson. On this basis we not only oppose their impact on the civil liberties of the students, but also the expense that might could have been far better applied to other areas in the school. 420

10:15am Thu 21 May 09

student1234 says...

Two months ago, the CCTV cameras installed in two classrooms at Davenant caused outrage and confusion. Although some teachers were told about the use of the cameras, many of them had no knowledge of their installation until they saw them. As for students, none of us were told which obviously caused pandemonium in the minds of us 'independent' teenagers!

Growing up watching TV shows like Big Brother - unfortunately not reading Orwell - means that our perception of these cameras was distorted as soon as we saw them. We immediately assumed that they were there to monitor behaviour in classrooms and make sure that Davenant was keeping tabs on everyone. Every passed note between two flirting Year 8s would be caught on camera, as would every sixth former surreptitiously trying to catch forty winks after another impossibly late night. The initial problem with the cameras was the lack of knowledge passed between higher powers and those who they affected the most: the students.

This led to the ‘rebellion’ of which you speak. A handful of students refused to enter their lesson in one of the monitored rooms. Whether their problem was with the lack of information given about the cameras or the actual nature of them, I cannot say. Either way, these Government & Politics students –*scoff* how ironic... – decided that the cameras were so unpleasant for them that they walked out.

As a student not involved with any sort of rebellion, you can gather that I never felt too strongly about there being cameras in a classroom. In fact, there are CCTV cameras installed all over the school which ARE in fact to monitor the behaviour of students. However, I was concerned about how little information we had received about these new cameras. It seemed to me that it wasn’t fair to install them without the permission of any parents of the students. I’m sure many of the parents, particularly those with younger children in the school, may not have taken so kindly to their son or daughter being filmed.

Consequently, the headteacher produced a two-sided information sheet explaining in detail the nature of the cameras, why they were there, how they would work and why there was nothing to worry about. For me, this was all that was needed to resolve the situation. Once everyone had a clearer understanding that the cameras would be used for teacher-training purposes and not used to incriminate the students, people seemed to just accept that the cameras were there. Of course, you can’t please everyone, particularly when a decision is potentially so controversial, but the majority of the school now understands the benefit of the cameras.

I’m not really in a position to speak on behalf of those who did stage the walk-out, but I can say confidently that the majority of the school, both students and teachers, are fine with the cameras now that they understand the purpose of them.
Two months ago, the CCTV cameras installed in two classrooms at Davenant caused outrage and confusion. Although some teachers were told about the use of the cameras, many of them had no knowledge of their installation until they saw them. As for students, none of us were told which obviously caused pandemonium in the minds of us 'independent' teenagers! Growing up watching TV shows like Big Brother - unfortunately not reading Orwell - means that our perception of these cameras was distorted as soon as we saw them. We immediately assumed that they were there to monitor behaviour in classrooms and make sure that Davenant was keeping tabs on everyone. Every passed note between two flirting Year 8s would be caught on camera, as would every sixth former surreptitiously trying to catch forty winks after another impossibly late night. The initial problem with the cameras was the lack of knowledge passed between higher powers and those who they affected the most: the students. This led to the ‘rebellion’ of which you speak. A handful of students refused to enter their lesson in one of the monitored rooms. Whether their problem was with the lack of information given about the cameras or the actual nature of them, I cannot say. Either way, these Government & Politics students –*scoff* how ironic... – decided that the cameras were so unpleasant for them that they walked out. As a student not involved with any sort of rebellion, you can gather that I never felt too strongly about there being cameras in a classroom. In fact, there are CCTV cameras installed all over the school which ARE in fact to monitor the behaviour of students. However, I was concerned about how little information we had received about these new cameras. It seemed to me that it wasn’t fair to install them without the permission of any parents of the students. I’m sure many of the parents, particularly those with younger children in the school, may not have taken so kindly to their son or daughter being filmed. Consequently, the headteacher produced a two-sided information sheet explaining in detail the nature of the cameras, why they were there, how they would work and why there was nothing to worry about. For me, this was all that was needed to resolve the situation. Once everyone had a clearer understanding that the cameras would be used for teacher-training purposes and not used to incriminate the students, people seemed to just accept that the cameras were there. Of course, you can’t please everyone, particularly when a decision is potentially so controversial, but the majority of the school now understands the benefit of the cameras. I’m not really in a position to speak on behalf of those who did stage the walk-out, but I can say confidently that the majority of the school, both students and teachers, are fine with the cameras now that they understand the purpose of them. student1234

3:52pm Thu 21 May 09

TMARK says...

Three articulately voiced opinions. This is a good testament to the quality of the school & students in itself.
Three articulately voiced opinions. This is a good testament to the quality of the school & students in itself. TMARK

12:14am Sat 23 May 09

Redfox says...

What opinion do these young people have of the miriad of cctv systems which abound Loughton and the main road shopping precincts which record their every move then? We are reliably informed by powers-that-be, we are all recorded by some 2 - 300 individual cameras per day going about our daily working & leisure activities, none of which allowed for our personal permission to do so.
What's so different about being recorded in a class room scenario.
What opinion do these young people have of the miriad of cctv systems which abound Loughton and the main road shopping precincts which record their every move then? We are reliably informed by powers-that-be, we are all recorded by some 2 - 300 individual cameras per day going about our daily working & leisure activities, none of which allowed for our personal permission to do so. What's so different about being recorded in a class room scenario. Redfox

1:48am Sat 23 May 09

Jack2606 says...

I'm a former student of Davenant Foundation School.

Quite a lot of the time some issues are simply blown out of proportion by some students who want to 'make an impact'.. petitions are often started for insignificant things. For example, the fingerprinting system. People who claimed they didnt want their finger print taken because it 'violates their privacy' were simply looking for attention, what on earth are the school going to do with your fingerprints?

However, this particular issue actually has substance. I fully support anyone who stood up and walked out of lessons because of this, particularly if they weren't informed (though i find this unlikely).

Students do not want to be filmed and recorded in their lessons, whether they are misbehaving or not, surely they would have to sign and agree to be filmed for this purpose, especially considering students have been warned in the past about use of 'camera phones' because it is against school rules to use them as people may not want their photo taken etc. Therefore i find this highly hypocritical.

What was wrong with having a qualified teacher at the back of the classroom monitoring a trainee?

Don't get me wrong, Davenant is a brilliant school, and i miss it now that i'm gone, i also have a sibling there (and another on the way in '09). But they have most definately made a huge mistake here and i fully support anyone who continues their walk-outs and protests on this issue.

Keep it up until they're removed!
I'm a former student of Davenant Foundation School. Quite a lot of the time some issues are simply blown out of proportion by some students who want to 'make an impact'.. petitions are often started for insignificant things. For example, the fingerprinting system. People who claimed they didnt want their finger print taken because it 'violates their privacy' were simply looking for attention, what on earth are the school going to do with your fingerprints? However, this particular issue actually has substance. I fully support anyone who stood up and walked out of lessons because of this, particularly if they weren't informed (though i find this unlikely). Students do not want to be filmed and recorded in their lessons, whether they are misbehaving or not, surely they would have to sign and agree to be filmed for this purpose, especially considering students have been warned in the past about use of 'camera phones' because it is against school rules to use them as people may not want their photo taken etc. Therefore i find this highly hypocritical. What was wrong with having a qualified teacher at the back of the classroom monitoring a trainee? Don't get me wrong, Davenant is a brilliant school, and i miss it now that i'm gone, i also have a sibling there (and another on the way in '09). But they have most definately made a huge mistake here and i fully support anyone who continues their walk-outs and protests on this issue. Keep it up until they're removed! Jack2606

1:53am Sat 23 May 09

Jack2606 says...

And in response to redfox:

It's most definately not an ideal situation, nobody likes to be watched. But sacrifices sometimes have to be made for personal safety and other reasons.

Most students would agree that CCTV's benefits much outweigh the negatives.

In this particular case however, there is no need to protect individuals safety or any other related reason. They are unnecessary. For a *possible* improvement of teacher training they are removing the rights and privacy of the students who are taught to be independant and stand up for their beliefs within their school.

A classroom is different to being recorded on a street, you're in an environment where you are supposed to be with just your teacher and your students, not being stored on film permeanantly.
And in response to redfox: It's most definately not an ideal situation, nobody likes to be watched. But sacrifices sometimes have to be made for personal safety and other reasons. Most students would agree that CCTV's benefits much outweigh the negatives. In this particular case however, there is no need to protect individuals safety or any other related reason. They are unnecessary. For a *possible* improvement of teacher training they are removing the rights and privacy of the students who are taught to be independant and stand up for their beliefs within their school. A classroom is different to being recorded on a street, you're in an environment where you are supposed to be with just your teacher and your students, not being stored on film permeanantly. Jack2606

6:18am Sat 23 May 09

TomSwirly says...

"Most students would agree that CCTV's benefits much outweigh the negatives."

What *are* those benefits? Who are those students who want to be on a camera their whole lives?

I'm a law-abiding citizen. I've never had as much as a parking ticket. And yet *I don't want to be on surveillance cameras by the government*. Why? Because I don't trust them. Why? *Because they have done zero to deserve my trust.*

And this goes QUINTUPLE for kids. I don't have kids but if I did I wouldn't want my kids recorded by the government.

Tell me again. How will spying on my kids help them?

I got an account here just to say that. If you reading have any sanity left, you must oppose the idea of *having your kids constantly monitored by the government on cameras*.

And if that idea doesn't make you feel sick, I strongly suggest you need to spend some time away from the evils of this government...
"Most students would agree that CCTV's benefits much outweigh the negatives." What *are* those benefits? Who are those students who want to be on a camera their whole lives? I'm a law-abiding citizen. I've never had as much as a parking ticket. And yet *I don't want to be on surveillance cameras by the government*. Why? Because I don't trust them. Why? *Because they have done zero to deserve my trust.* And this goes QUINTUPLE for kids. I don't have kids but if I did I wouldn't want my kids recorded by the government. Tell me again. How will spying on my kids help them? I got an account here just to say that. If you reading have any sanity left, you must oppose the idea of *having your kids constantly monitored by the government on cameras*. And if that idea doesn't make you feel sick, I strongly suggest you need to spend some time away from the evils of this government... TomSwirly

2:36pm Sat 23 May 09

Jack2606 says...

Well you have just completely ignored the purpose of the cameras and are going way over the top with this 'spying' business.

CCTV in the UK originated in banks, to prevent robberies. I'm pretty sure you'd rather not have your money stolen. It rolled out across the country to prevent IRA bombings, and was successful.

The fact is, a law abiding citizen such as yourself should not feel so negative about these cameras. They arent used for 'spying on children' or anything like that, they're used to prevent crime and to assist in conviction of offenders.

They are there to protect you, not to catch you out (unless you're a criminal).

You're far too cynical of this government.
Well you have just completely ignored the purpose of the cameras and are going way over the top with this 'spying' business. CCTV in the UK originated in banks, to prevent robberies. I'm pretty sure you'd rather not have your money stolen. It rolled out across the country to prevent IRA bombings, and was successful. The fact is, a law abiding citizen such as yourself should not feel so negative about these cameras. They arent used for 'spying on children' or anything like that, they're used to prevent crime and to assist in conviction of offenders. They are there to protect you, not to catch you out (unless you're a criminal). You're far too cynical of this government. Jack2606

4:07pm Sat 23 May 09

Buckland says...

On which planet does CCTV offer protection against crime? CCTV cameras were the silent impotent witnesses to the abduction of James Bulger. They did nothing to protect him did they?! For crime prevention you need police officers on the streets not an absentee police force who are merely reactive. Are we now expected that classrooms are high crime areas? How gullible do you think we are? Once these children have been trained to accept CCTV monitoring their every move it will be virtually a fait accompli to get them to accept their presence in their homes using the exact same reasoning.
I am delighted that a handful of pupils had the nonce to do something about CCTV in their classroom. Deeply concerned that it *was* only a handful.
On which planet does CCTV offer protection against crime? CCTV cameras were the silent impotent witnesses to the abduction of James Bulger. They did nothing to protect him did they?! For crime prevention you need police officers on the streets not an absentee police force who are merely reactive. Are we now expected that classrooms are high crime areas? How gullible do you think we are? Once these children have been trained to accept CCTV monitoring their every move it will be virtually a fait accompli to get them to accept their presence in their homes using the exact same reasoning. I am delighted that a handful of pupils had the nonce to do something about CCTV in their classroom. Deeply concerned that it *was* only a handful. Buckland

11:54pm Sat 23 May 09

Jack2606 says...

"On which planet does CCTV offer protection against crime?"

This planet. They deter crime. If you see a camera watching an area, you're unlikely to commit a crime, unless you have half a braincell.

And yes, CCTV isnt the ends of all our problems, but it sure does help. Many more people would have been killed by the IRA if it wasn't for CCTV, let alone countless other crimes which have been deterred thanks to CCTV and many criminals have been put behind bars thanks to the evidence they provide.
"On which planet does CCTV offer protection against crime?" This planet. They deter crime. If you see a camera watching an area, you're unlikely to commit a crime, unless you have half a braincell. And yes, CCTV isnt the ends of all our problems, but it sure does help. Many more people would have been killed by the IRA if it wasn't for CCTV, let alone countless other crimes which have been deterred thanks to CCTV and many criminals have been put behind bars thanks to the evidence they provide. Jack2606

10:53pm Tue 26 May 09

Ridley says...

Well done to the sensible and articulate students, and a big thumbs-down to the voyeuristic and obsessed headmaster. The photo shows the camera facing the pupils, not the teacher. For goodness' sake let's keep CCTV from the classroom for as long as possible.
Well done to the sensible and articulate students, and a big thumbs-down to the voyeuristic and obsessed headmaster. The photo shows the camera facing the pupils, not the teacher. For goodness' sake let's keep CCTV from the classroom for as long as possible. Ridley

7:38pm Wed 27 May 09

Shoosh says...

Snaresbrrok Primary has installed CCTV, apparently only to monitor the School gates, so I cant understand why they also have a camera right in the middle of the playground monitoring the children playing. Also a year 1 teacher has been taking his camera into the School and making films of the kids and broadcasting them on YouTube without any parental consent which I personally think is absolutly discusting.
Snaresbrrok Primary has installed CCTV, apparently only to monitor the School gates, so I cant understand why they also have a camera right in the middle of the playground monitoring the children playing. Also a year 1 teacher has been taking his camera into the School and making films of the kids and broadcasting them on YouTube without any parental consent which I personally think is absolutly discusting. Shoosh

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